Friday, January 27, 2012

The moonstones of Sri Lanka

The three obvious items at the entrance of any Buddhist structure in Sri Lanka are the Moonstone, Guard stones and the Balustrades.

The moonstone is a prominent feature and has been around since Anuradhapura period - 3rd century. Moonstones are similar to dust mats we place outside the door. Its semi circular with intricate carvings. The moonstones of Anuradhapura  had more elaborate designs. Outer edge has ring of flames depicting the never ending life and the pains and passion associated with it. Next ring has 4 types of animals - The elephant, the horse, the lion and the bull one after the other representing four noble truths of birth, old age, disease and death. The next semi circle are carvings of creeper with foliage reminder of our desires. Next is a line of swans with a twig flower and leaf in their mouth. Its said that the swan is capable of separating milk from water (good from bad). He who is capable of doing this can conquer the four noble truths. The final ring is the floral pattern of lotus. Once you can conquer the truths; you are capable of attaining Nirvana represented by Lotus.


 The Polonnaruwa moonstones are different than those from Anuradhapura. These stones came hundreds of year later and evolved due to the Hindu influence on the island due to Chola invasion. The bull is dropped from the moonstone design as Bull is sacred to Hindus and trampling on the symbol was disrespectful. The Lion too was taken out as it represented the Sinhala race.

The Guardstones and dwarfs. On one side is Padma and the other side Sanka represented by head dresses - a Lotus and a Conch. Finally are the odd numbered steps with dwarfs taking the weight of the stones. It depicts people trampling them - meaning one who does not lead noble life are prone to pains and sorrows. 

Finally is the Blustrades. The below picture  show imaginary creatures on either side just above the 2 figures. These are called Dragon stone (Makara Gala) and its imaginary. Made of six body parts of animals; with each part is the strongest feature of each animal. It breathes a flame of fire. 

Trunk of the Elephant
Jaws of the Crocodile
Ears of the mouse (some call it the ears of the Monkey)
The extruding teeth of the Wild boar
The tail feathers of the Peacock
Feet of a Lion


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. informative post
    good to know about Sri Lanka.
    For Majority Indians Lanka is a lanka of Ravana.

  3. such rich heritage. It's always good to know about the origin and meaning behind such symbols.

  4. The world is more familiar with Tibetan Buddhism than the Srilankan, the Hinayana, I think. You have taken good photographs, though I wish there was a closeup of the carving.

  5. Intricate details and art! And it's amazing to see how these have evolved over years!

  6. You may be getting better behind the lens.
    A fascinating country you have been , when you look at its past and what it beholds for the discerning. Wonder when this guy "Ravan" was around. Will the Hindutva folks tell something about that?

  7. Beautiful and amazing . Our modern day structures can never compete with these ancient ones.

  8. SM,

    Yeah, there is much much more than Ravana :)


    Yup! Its not simply said there is a reason behind everything!


    Yeah, Vajrayana form of Buddhism (in Nepal) is very different and latest than the Hinayana. It was a different experience and new learning in Buddhism for me.

    As for snaps, I had a challenge in taking pictures during SL trip as the aperture unit broke and I struggled to take good pics.


    Yes, the stories behind it were interesting.


    Thank you Anil. I had to struggle due to broken aperture unit, yet the pics are decent. SL offered me more than my expectation. They dismiss Ravan story as a tale :)


    Absolutely! they can never ever :)

  9. You have described the moon stone and guard stones well..Love your narration.

  10. I came across this blog accidently and now I want to go on reading all your B Logs.
    You manage to keep the informative matters interesting. In a way, your writing inspires me.

  11. Yashank,

    Welcome to B Log :)
    I am glad my posts have not bored you. I am doubly glad to hear my writing inspires! Thats a huge compliment to a writer.

  12. Lovely post and photos thanks for sharing :)


I'd love to know what you thought :-) Please shoot!